In August 2021 the father of acoustic ecology and avant-guard composer R. Murray Schafer finally left the stage after a distinguished career. A pamphlet he published in 1973 entitled ‘The Music of the Environment’ called for a re-flourishing of the ear as a primary tool in navigation and a move to reconnect unique and particular sounds with time and space to counter what he termed ‘Schizophonia’ – a disconnect with our acoustic ecology.
Striking landscapes have the power to inspire and inform creative responses as varied as the environments themselves. The ‘Folk on Foot’ podcast series, ‘Spell Songs’ collaboration and ‘Creative Scotland’s Place Partnership Programme’ are but a few notable recent manifestations of this enduring “intimate connection between individuals and the environments of which they are part”. (Curriculum as spaces: Aesthetics, community, and the politics of place, 2014).
When I moved to Uist in the Outer Hebrides in 2009 it was the hemispherical dome of sky that turned my head like an owl. The tall tenements of Edinburgh where I had lived previously often allowed but a narrow slice of skyline in stark contrast. It was the Uist horizon line between land and sky that provided me with the starting impetus for a composing residency (Secret Sea/Cuan Uibhist) I was invited to partake in at Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum & Arts Centre.
My own interest in the interactions between Music and the Environment has more recently found a creative nest through my role with the University of the Highlands and Islands as Programme Leader for a MA with that very name. Grounded in ideas from Ecomusicology and Geopoetics, the course works with students to provide a framework for locating one’s musical creativity.
A network of ‘archipelagic’ musicians forms a cohort who each bring a unique perspective and area of influence to group collaboration and creativity utilising online technologies. Mainly based in Scotland, students can study from anywhere and we have been joined by musicians based in Brazil, China, Wales and Switzerland.
We get together in person where possible and our last residency before Covid took us to the site of the world’s longest reverb. This amazing experience is to be found in a disused admiralty oil depot near Invergordon. Dressed in our Breaking Bad safety gear and shoehorned like pizzas into an oven the other side opened out into a remarkable sonic unforgettable space. Here is a short clip of us testing it out (headphones required).
I was recently moved to hear live music again at Na Trads (4th Dec 2021) for the first time since the pandemic. It was even better than I remembered and reinforced to me the joy of witnessing music made live in the company of others. An antidote to Schafer’s Schizophonia.
With that in mind I have arranged a showcase of soon to graduate MA students’ final projects. This will be live streamed from The Bungalow in Paisley Wed 26th January 2022 and on Tuesday 25th there will be live classical music in Paisley Abbey featuring MA student work in the evening performed by the Maxwell Quartet. This event is open to the public so do join us if you want to experience the projects live and find out more about what we do on the Music and the Environment.
On that note this recent video has MA teaching staff discussing their perspective on the course ethos:
CAPE Network Fall 2021 ZOOM Webinar #5 UHI, Scotland’s MA in Music and the Environment | The Green Actions Project
And here are the thoughts of three students, Ewen Henderson, Anja Drozdova and Bill Skeoch, on their experience on the course and what it meant to them:
Check out the MA Music and the Environment Facebook page for more information on the Paisley Showcase closer to the time if you are minded to join us for a re-flourishing of the ear!